State representative Jesse White (D-Washington), under fire after a KDKA investigative report, admitted Thursday that he engaged in online attacks via comment boards and on local websites under various aliases.
White was accused of posting several comments chastising other commenters for pro-gas industry views under a variety of aliases on websites discussing natural gas drilling.
According to KDKA, a person under the name “Prouder American” called a pro-gas commenter an “industry troll.” Another commenter, who posted under the name “Harold,” called her an “undereducated yonder,” “dumber than a box of rocks,” and “an embarrassment to her community.”
The comments were traced to an IP address from the same computer as Rep. White’s state e-mail address.
“I have no comment,” White repeatedly said to KDKA when asked about the messages. “Others repeated political and personal attacks put on me by the propaganda wing of the natural gas industry like Energy In-depth and companies that are advertisers on your network.”
After the report was released, White posted a statement on his Facebook page admitting to the accusations.
“On occasion, I have exercised my First Amendment rights and responded in kind, which was an error in judgment that I regret,” White said. “To be clear, I did not use government resources while posting comments on these sites.”
KDKA also found that the anti-drilling website called GasRootsPA.com, which “chastises drilling supporters as ‘whores’ and regularly praises White,” was registered in White’s name. White told KDKA he had no comment on that coincidence. An hour after the interview, the domain registration was changed to someone named Tony Stewart, who KDKA believes is not a real person.
White also apologized to two particular people the negative comments were directed towards, and said that he will be extending an invitation to meet with him to discuss their viewpoints face-to-face “in an effort to find common ground and foster a more professional and respectful level of communication.”
But he did not apologize for the anonymous tactics, claiming he was adopting measures used by his political critics.
“…multi-million dollar energy industry groups like Energy In Depth [have] published numerous misleading and personal attacks against me in an attempt to distract people from the real issues and discredit my character. These attacks have included anonymous or fictitious posts on various websites,” he wrote.
White has accused gas drillers of singling him out in recent years, starting in 2011.
He once enjoyed a friendly relationship with gas exploration company Range Resources, Inc., the largest drilling company in Washington County. But a Tribune-Review investigative report showed the relationship soured at some point after the company refused to give him a corporate flight to the 2011 Superbowl and, White wrote in an email, was insufficiently supportive of his campaign.
Range had previously donated $10,000 to White’s election campaign, but the company soon severed ties with the lawmaker after the Superbowl incident. Range would end up releasing a series of emails between the company and White to explain the reasoning behind the strained relationship.
“It’s always been Range’s approach to have good relationships with the community, which includes lawmakers,” company spokesman Matt Pitzarella said at the time. “In working with Rep. White, frankly, we became uncomfortable with his tactics and behavior. He went from reasonable to ridiculous..He may think his antics are part of some game, but these are real issues, involving real people looking for real solutions, not grandstanding or politicking.”
White said the entire exchange, including the release of emails, was precipitated when he began to shift his position from a proponent of gas drilling to a critic.
Conservatives have rushed forward to censure White.
The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a conservative nonprofit organization that could funnel money to White’s opponent in 2014, had harsh words for the state representative.
“This kind of behavior is absolutely appalling,” CAP Executive Director Leo Knepper stated. “Furthermore if Rep. White has misused government resources to harass folks who are simply exercising their first amendment rights, he will hopefully suffer serious legal consequences.”
The Pennsylvania GOP tried to tie White’s actions to Democrats running for Governor.
“While Rep. White’s comments and behavior are deplorable, the real question is whether Allyson Schwartz, Rob McCord, John Hanger, Tom Wolf and other Pennsylvania Democrats stand by his shameful attacks on an industry that has created thousands of Pennsylvania jobs,” said PA GOP spokeswoman Valerie Caras.
The PAGOP noted that just two weeks ago, White voted in favor of a bill that aimed to prevent, “individuals from creating fake profiles online with the intent to maliciously harm another person”.
Update: Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody accepted White’s apology in a statement.
“Representative White knows he was out of line and his statement today acknowledges that mistake. Elected representatives need to be ever mindful that they will be held to a higher standard. Passionate as we are about certain issues, we should always try to keep the conversation civil and avoid hurtful behavior. I believe the representative’s apology is sincere and that he will strive to do better in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile the PAGOP tried on its BuzzFeed hat and assembled 7 gifs to tell the story.